Boost Direct Bookings And Keep OTAs Happy With These Three Expert Tips

Hotel operators are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to dealing with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Orbitz, Travelocity and Hotwire. These websites may provide a large source of revenue for hotels, but at the same time, they can cannibalize business that probably would have booked through the hotel in the first place, which saves the hotel from having to pay large OTA commissions.

The plot thickens when you consider that most OTA agreements require rate parity. These rules forbid hotels from advertising rates for less than what’s on the deals site, which makes it difficult for operators to compete for business. But you also don’t want to “bite the hand that feeds you.”

Luckily for hotel operators, there are a number of tricks they can use to increase direct online revenue without breaking OTA agreements. Here’s a few our hotel technology experts devised.

Catch Visitor’s Attention With Smart Design and Layout

Many times when customers shop for deals, they find a handful of properties in a similar price range. Their next step is often to navigate to the individual hotel websites. This is your big opportunity to convince them to book directly through your website.

The first and most obvious (yet surprisingly overlooked) best practice is to put your most attractive rooms front and center on the homepage. When customers book on deals sites, they often assume they will get the most basic room you have to offer. So if they see immediately just what they would miss, it might be enough to convince them to pay the extra amount needed for the better room. Use professional photos that show the room’s best features, whether that’s the view, a huge soaking tub, or the square footage — whatever generally “sells” customers on the room. Here’s a great example from the Hilton in San Francisco:

This page also demonstrates another design best practice – the “check availability” button in the top right corner. You should make it extremely obvious where site visitors can book online. The experience should be seamless. Your web booking engine should enable customers to view availability in real time and book their room immediately.

Finally, you should prominently display your own discounts and packages. Rate parity requirements only apply to offers for the exact same room. Even if you can’t offer a lower price for that same room, you can offer more value than the savings with add-ons. Here’s a great example from the same Hilton website. They dedicate an entire page on their website for packages:

Steer Them to Your Website with with Online Reviews

Another common step in the evaluation stage on OTAs is to browse online reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like. This presents yet another opportunity for hotel operators to jump in and drive direct website bookings, rather than sending them back to the OTA.

Hotel operators should respond to every comment possible that users post. For example, if someone comments on how much they liked the room layout, view or another feature, the manager could respond by thanking them for feedback and and providing a link to their customer loyalty program. Or, in a scenario where the customers was less than satisfied, they can thank them again for the feedback and offer a discount for their next booking. This shows customers you care and are willing to take steps to provide them with more value. Here’s a great example from Hotel San Jose in Austin, Texas:

Send Your Facebook Fans and Loyal Customers Special Discounts

Parity agreements prevent hotels from offering discounts publicly. However, this restriction doesn’t apply to those offers hotels distribute to a limited audience, including to Facebook followers and people signed up for your loyalty program.

Here’s a great example from the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego. They posted an update with a nicely-designed poster and advertisement for special packages they offered that weekend. If you click through, it takes you to a landing page with discount codes:

You can also send regular discount codes to an email list of people who signed up for your loyalty program.

“We give better rates to returning guests than any rate on a OTA,” says Gary Bruton, principal at Cypress Hospitality Management, which manages The Sanctuary Beach Resort, among others.

About once a month, he sends a form of communication to his mailing list of former guests. Sometimes it’s a newsletter, other times a blog post. This communication provides the reader with up-to-date information about what’s going on in the hotel.

Savvy hotel operators can personalize these communications through automation technology. These tools can also enable customers to rack up reward “points” that can then be put towards a future purchase via self-service portal.

What strategies does your hotel use to drive direct bookings? Join the conversation with a comment here.

Ashley Verrill is a market analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Hotel Website Design Insights – Design Brief

This is the 3rd and final part of the Hotel Webdesign Insights series which will be talking about the:

3. Design Brief

Previously, we thought about how to best organise website content and developed a site tree. We also considered which website elements will be necessary and designed a wireframe. Now, you are almost ready to jump into the design stage. However, the designer still doesn’t know your product and who you want to sell it to. Therefore, we need to tell them.

What is a Design Brief?
The design brief is a document which will be filled in by the client, ideally under guidance of your web agency. Think of it as a web-specific marketing plan which in an ideal world each business should have at the ready. In most cases, you would already have collateral like printed brochures or leaflets, business cards, letter-heads etc. in your corporate identity (CI). The website design needs to match your CI. Once complete, the design brief will be sent to the graphic designer and lay the ground work for your new website design.

The design brief contains questions regarding: short and long-term goals, audience profiles, perception and tone, branding guidelines, competitive positioning, targeted messages, customer relationship considerations etc.

Sample questions from a Design Brief Template

What is the purpose of a Design Brief?

The designer needs some information about your hotel and who you are planning to sell your rooms and services to. Each hotel is different and has their own Unique Selling Point (USP) which the designer must know about in order to be able to emphasize this visually.

It is very important to think the questions from the design brief through properly and be as specific as possible. That way, the designer can develop a successful and bespoke design without having to go through many expensive trial and error stages. Therefore, a comprehensive and specific design brief will keep down design costs later on!

For example, audience profiles should be part of the general marketing plan of a hotel already and should only have to be repeated in the design brief. What isn’t helpful is defining a target audience of “adults between the age of 20 and 55” as this is far too general. The designer needs to know whether they are meant to be designing a hip and cool website for a young audience or something rather formal for the business traveller – to pick just two examples on the very ends of the spectrum.

Attach any printed collateral which shows your CI to the design brief or if you have a brand book listing color schemes, fonts, logo options etc., add this. Your logo and preferred photos of the hotel should also be provided at this point as the designer will use them in the mock-ups.

With all this, the designer will now be able to make a start and you are finally entering the design stage. You will soon be provided with mock-ups showing your newly designed website and all this preparation will have paid off!